Meteors, Dinosaur Droppings, and More (RJS)

Joel at Naturalis Historia has a knack for organizing and describing scientific evidence in a clear and readable fashion. Perhaps this comes from years of experience teaching biology to college students. He posts sporadically, but all of the material is worth a careful read if you are interested in science and the evidence that convinces so many Christians in the sciences of the age of the earth and the basic reliability of evolutionary biology. He writes the kind of science-based posts I wish I had more time for, but can only occasionally achieve.

The question posed in Evolution vs. God is ill posed, as no one can give sound bite evidence for evolution observed on the time scale of a human life. (See The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for more on this video.) But this does not mean that evidence does not exist, that it is not convincing, and that it cannot be understood. A couple of recent posts are excellent cases in point.

First a post from back in June:

The YDB Event: The Most Recent Global Catastrophe in Human History? that explores recent research on the Younger Dryas Boundary.

The Young Dryas Boundary (YDB) has long been recognized in sediments around the world as marking the beginning of a time in which the world experienced a global decline in temperature for a period of about 1300 years.  This period of cooler and dryer weather has been called the Younger Dryas.  The boundary that marks the beginning of this period has been dated by various methods, but most prominently C14 radiometric dating, to be right about 12,800 years ago.    The YDB also corresponds to the sudden disappearance of many large animals including the American mammoths, mastodons, american camel, dire wolf, native horses (remember all horses in NA today were brought here from the old world) and giant ground sloth in North America, just to name a few.  Below are a few examples showing how visible this boundary point can be in the geological record.

Over a series of papers the case is being made (and challenged) that this boundary represents an asteroid strike that eventually wiped out the already challenged mega fauna (mammoth, mastodon, and the saber-toothed cat, smilidon) that went extinct somewhere around this time. It is also suggested that this event wiped out the Clovis culture in North America, which was then repopulated from Central America. Joel lays out the evidence quite well, points to the original literature, and describes how this is an excellent example of science at work.  Arguments are made, challenged, tested, and refined.

“But wait you promised dinosaur droppings!” I hear exclaimed. As interesting as asteroid strikes and extinctions may be, you really want to know about dinosaur excrement.

In a more recent post Joel looks at the prevalence of animal excrement in the fossil record: Dino Doo-Doo (Coprolites) and the Genesis Flood. Fossilized dinosaur droppings make quite beautiful “rocks.” While whole skeleton fossils are relatively rare, coprolites or fossilized poop is not.  And this is even more the case for other species. In fact he points out that this is a serious challenge to the idea that the fossils in the Green River formation were deposited in a single massive flood.

But dino droppings are just a drop in the bucket in terms of the feces preserved in the geological column.  Bird feces in the forms of massive layers of preserved guano and fish fecal pellets are found in massive numbers.  To provide just one example, the Green River Formation in the western US is famous for its fossilized fish.  Creationists have questioned how they could be preserved so well in the millions of layers of sediments.  Leaving that question aside here,  these layers also contain countless fish coprolites as well.  … These coprolites are found in conjunction with layers in which fish are also found.   Fish coprolites in this area surely must number in the many billions and be represented at least 1000 to one over the presence of fish.  If, as Woolley suggests, that coprolites in these rocks represent the voided contents of fish caught in a global flood then here again we have far more poop than one would expect to find coming from a fish in such a short period of time.

Fossilized droppings may not point to the so-called missing links in the fossil record demonstrating evolution by natural selection, but they certainly point to an old earth and a large number of creatures present over an extended period of time.

But wait, there is more. This one not from Naturalis Historia, but from ScienceNow and the journal Geology, marginally related to the above, but I thought it pretty cool. Not only are there many examples of fossilized excrement, we now have fossilized whale vomit as well, as this story in ScienceNow reports: Stinky Whale Clumps, Now in Fossil Form.

Rocky lumps found eroding from ancient clay-rich sediments in Italy may be the first known fossils of ambergris, a fragrant and flammable substance produced in the intestines of sperm whales. What’s more, according to a new study, the large number of lumps discovered within a very small area hints that these fossils may be all that’s left of a mysterious mass die-off of the giant creatures.

In work reported in a new article in the journal Geology researchers found 25 or more clumps of fossilized ambergris in a small area – some 1200 square meters (a bit less than a quarter the size of a football field). Fossilized squid beaks in the clumps along with structural and chemical analysis support the identification as fossilized ambergris. The high density in one location points to a mass die-off for some unknown reason, although other explanations are also possible. But there are no skeletons or traditional fossils.  The formation in which these clumps were found dates to some 1.75 million years ago, making it relatively recent compared with the dinosaurs (who died out some 66 million years ago or so after a reign of 135 million years). The flesh and bones decayed away, and only the fossilized ambergris remains as a monument these whales. The picture above from wikipedia is of modern sperm whales, very much like the sperm whales of 1.75 million years ago.

Whales, by the way, evolved from a land mammal between something like 50 and 40 million years ago and although research continues and all steps are not yet clear, this is a case where an abundance of transitional fossils exist. So many that Hugh Ross commented on them in an article Thank God for Whales. (Joel has an article at Naturalis Historia that comments on this as well.)

I believe that all these “transitional forms” for whales show up in the fossil record because God likes whales. Knowing their propensity for rapid extinction, He kept on making new ones. Evidence shows an apparent progression from fresh water habitats to sea coastal regions to proliferating throughout all the world’s oceans. God must have had His reasons for gradually expanding both the habitats and populations of whales.

From the point of view of progressive creation, this explanation makes sense I suppose. I, however, find the presence of these transitional forms to be powerful evidence for evolution.

What would it take to provide convincing evidence for evolution?

What do you find most convincing (or troubling)?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • Pilgrim

    I was raised a YEC, moved to OEC following evidence (see “The Bible, Rocks and Time” by Young and Stearley) and RTB. However, the RTB model became untenable for me and the last straw was Dr. Venema’s article on the genomic evidence for common ancestry. Somewhere in the article it became clear to me that the evidence pointed towards God using evolutionary means (with His fingerprints on the improbabilities) rather than progressive de novo creation. I am still wrestling with what all that means for faith…and of course, I still wrestle with how to communicate that insight to those who assume anything besides a strict YEC stance is a liberal heresy.

  • wolfeevolution

    The evidence I find most convincing in favor of evolution, especially macroevolution, is Australian marsupials. (I’m sure this is nothing new to most readers of your posts, RJS, but I’ll explain it in detail in case others are less familiar, and hope not to insult anyone’s intelligence!)

    Marsupials, of course, are mammals like kangaroos that give birth to tiny, extremely premature young, which they then raise in a pouch. They differ from monotremes (egg-laying mammals: platypus, echidna) and placental mammals (everything else, so carnivores, whales, elephants, horses, ruminants, monkeys, rodents, you name it).

    What’s amazing is that, with the exception of various species of opossum that live in the Americas, marsupials are entirely confined to Australia (plus Papua and some nearby islands). More amazingly, there are no native placental mammals in this region, except for bats and some rodents.

    What you see when you look at the marsupials of Australia is that there is incredible diversity! You have of course the massive red kangaroo, a grazer; the recently-extinct Tasmanian wolf, very similar in appearance to a placental wolf but with a pouch; the marsupial mole, a small furry burrower like placental moles; the marsupial sugar glider, which can glide very similarly to a placental flying squirrel; and the numbat (mascot of Western Australia!), a small rodent-like animal that has a tongue specially suited to eating ants like an anteater does. All of these animals have pouches and live in Australia. None of them live anywhere else. DNA studies also suggest that they all descended from a single migrant ancestor, a close relative of Chile’s monito del monte (an opossum-like marsupial).

    The macroevolution story goes like this: A small colony of marsupials migrated from the southern tip of South America, along the western edge of Antarctica, and onto Australia when these continents were all still connected as part of the supercontinent Gondwana. Shortly thereafter, around 45 million years ago, Australia separated from Antarctica. During the subsequent millions of years of complete isolation, the marsupials had the run of the place! Over millions of generations, they diversified to fill all these different Australian niches that were wide open to them (as adumbrated above).

    I think people will see the strength of this explanation, but just to explore things a bit, the following is the only alternative response I see to these data, and it’s not very convincing to me: “Hey, we don’t know why, but God created all the diverse kinds of marsupials and just plopped them all down in Australia. God’s ways are inscrutable; how could we know why He chose to do it that way? Maybe He wanted to test us, making it look like macroevolution was true to see if we would stick to His word.” I honestly don’t mean to lampoon dissenters or set up straw men. Perhaps better responses exist from anti-macroevolution proponents; if so, I’d like to see them. I just think macroevolution makes the most sense of these facts.

    (Note: This is slightly modified from a comment I wrote to Joel in your last post, RJS, which was buried deep inside an über-long thread and posted three days after traffic had died off, so I don’t think many saw it. Please forgive the repetition, but it directly answers today’s question. Also, if anyone is interested in more on this, they can read Darrel Falk’s _Coming to Peace with Science_, where he elaborates on the marsupial data in considerable detail.)

  • Milton Pope

    Interesting. My reaction to all that is almost opposite of yours. Why would so many species evolve into something so exactly parallel to extant placental species? Are certain combinations of traits inevitable on the surface of planet Earth? I know of the term “convergent evolution”, but is there a theory as to why this should be?

  • AHH

    Yes, convergent evolution is the idea. There’s not really special “theory” for it beyond standard evolutionary theory. Ecosystems on Earth have certain niches where creatures can thrive (big land predator, scavenger, thing that eats ants, things that graze, things that burrow). So creatures that evolve to fill those niches successfully will tend to end up with similar features, even if they are not very closely related (as in this case where their ancestors got isolated by ocean).
    Falk’s book mentioned above is excellent at explaining this and the many other lines of evidence for common descent in a manner accessible to the layman. A full treatment of convergent evolution is in Life’s Solution by the British paleontologist (and Christian) Simon Conway Morris, but that’s not an easy read and I would not recommend it to those without a science background.

  • wolfeevolution

    I’m grateful AHH jumped in to answer your question; I was hoping someone more versed in these things would do so.

    I’m curious, Milton, what you mean when you say, “My reaction to all that is almost opposite of yours.” What is your alternative or opposite explanation (or hunch / hypothesis)?

  • Joey Elliott

    I apologize, wolfeevolution, but how should I address you?

    Did you mean this is a modified post from what you wrote to me (Joey) instead of Joel? If not, I think that is true also, as it is almost verbatim to what I saw from The Good, The Bad, The Ugly post (on Ray Comfort’s video), but was enough after the fact that I did not respond. Sorry about that!

    Can I ask a simple question? Let’s say I concede and believe in common descent and macro-evolution for Austrialian marsupials, and several other species that perhaps there could be convincing evidence despite the fact that it is not “observable” by a single human.

    Even if I did that, how do theistic evolutionists make the jump that this applies to humans? In other words, even if this were true as a natural rule for several species, why is macro evolution forced upon humans? I understand why this would be so for atheists who do not believe in God, the Bible, or the supernatural. But why with the science and God folks? What is the specific evidence for common descent in humans? Not marsupials, humans.

    Why is it not consistent with both science (natural evidence) and Scripture (supernatural revelation) to accept both that macro evolution does exist in many cases, but just not with humans? Humans are obviously unique. Both science and Scripture confirm this. Why can’t they be unique as it applies to macro evolution?

    Otherwise, I’d like to see way more honest theological wrestling with how this can be so despite the insufficient evidence, and more importantly, the difficulty this creates with humans created in the image of God. RJS mentioned this as at least a strong point in what I was saying, and what Ray Comfort was getting at.

    Can we have that theological discussion? Has it already been had on here and I missed it?

    Thanks everyone.

  • wolfeevolution

    Joey, my sincere apologies for messing up your name! No excuses on that, though I’d like to blame sleep deprivation. You can call me Wolfe. And yes, the discussion you’re asking about happens on here quite regularly, but we’re always very happy to keep having it. =)

    Unfortunately, today my time’s tight, but I’m hoping others will chime in, and if I know that you’ll actually read what I write even if I write it after the thread is dormant (having been notified by Disqus that a new response to you has been posted), I’ll give this important question of yours my best shot later, for whatever that may be worth. This kind of honest conversation about this topic is one of my favorite things to do! Cheers, Joey.

  • AHH

    Joey,

    While that evidence on marsupials and convergent evolution does not apply directly to humans, other strong lines of evidence do, including fossils, comparative anatomy, and especially study of the genome. Again, I recommend Darrel Falk’s book for an accessible overview of evidence for common descent. But since I seem to recall you have in the past resisted book recommendations, here are two articles on the genetics (from scientists who are Christians) on the web:
    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2003/PSCF9-03Collins.pdf
    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2010/PSCF9-10Venema.pdf

    Now, I agree that our affirmation that we are “created in the image of God” is an important question here. That comes up on this blog on occasion, but I don’t recall (RJS?) if it has ever been a focus of discussion.
    I think most of the problem gets solved if we listen to the OT scholars who tell us that the “image of God” isn’t anything physical. Instead it has to do with relationship and responsibility. God has chosen our species to represent (image) him and relate to him in a special way, to be his vice-regents stewarding his creation and representing his character in all our relationships. A good book on that is The Liberating Image by Middleton. And I find some posts (the first set by Pete Enns, the 2nd by Tim Keller) on the topic:
    http://biologos.org/blog/series/what-does-image-of-god-mean
    http://biologos.org/blog/saturday-sermons-in-the-image-of-god

  • AHH

    Here’s a relatively brief essay talking about the science of convergent evolution:
    http://biologos.org/blog/evolution-basics-an-introduction-to-homoplasy-and-convergent-evolution

  • Phil Miller

    I’ve said it numerous times here, but the fact that humans are created in the image of God is something that transcends biology. It isn’t our bodies or any specific physical feature that sets us apart. It’s our ability to be in relationship to God and to partake of His nature.

    Really, I think there can be a danger if we start tying our physical bodies as the thing that makes us unique. What does that mean for how we treat those who are disabled in some way? Does a person bear less of God’s image if they become paralyzed, have limbs amputated, have Down’s Syndrome, etc.? Of course all Christians would say no, it doesn’t change the fact that a person is still created in God’s image.

  • Milton Pope

    You said that the parallel evolution of the marsupials convinces you of evolution. My own reaction (before reading AHH’s reply, above) was to think that the parallels seemed too elaborate to be chance development. (Thanks, AHH. I’ll follow up on the Biologos link.)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Brilliant observation, Phil.

  • Susan_G1

    Joey,

    We are not – biologically – obviously unique. Humans and some great apes are far more alike than they are different. It may make you uneasy to contemplate this, but it doesn’t change the truth of it.

    The skeletons of humans and chimpanzees are virtually identical (except for limb lengths). Both have 32 teeth with equal distribution of bi- and tricuspids, molars and incisors. We have the same number of vertebrae (though thoracic and lumbar vertebrae are different by one each because of human bipedality). We are, both species, omnivores. Our hands and feet have the same bones (arranged slightly differently in the great toe). We both have fingernails. We both have unique fingerprints. We both normally have two mammary glands and two nipples. Our eyes, with the exception of the coloration of the conjunctiva, are identical. We both have bad night vision. Our organs are identical. We both have hairless fingers/palms and soles. They don’t have underarm or upper facial hair. Chimp females start reproducing at 12-13 years. Single births are the norm; twins are rare. Chimp mothers are excellent, loving nurturers. Gestation is 38-40 weeks; humans normal: 40 weeks (I suspect they would be exactly the same if humans counted from ovulation instead of the last menstrual period). Before 1960, humans used to distinguish ourselves by claiming we alone had the ability to use tools. That has been proven wrong. Chimps use a wide variety of tools, including tools to hunt. We both vocalize and use facial expression to relay information, learn by observation, form stable social groups, grieve our dead. Our young spend a lot of time at play. We both pass the mirror test. Chimps can learn sign language and teach it to their companions and offspring. We suffer from similar diseases. There is mental illness in both. Genetically we differ by about 1.5% of our DNA. Jane Goodall wrote a book about chimps called In the Shadow of Man. It is a classic, a stirring book, and I recommend it highly, though it is old and much has been learned about chimps since then.

    I can go on for a long, long time. I hope it would became apparent to you that humans are not, as Phil said, special and apart biologically. It is something in our more highly developed brains. There are genetic diseases that can result in humans less intelligent than chimps. What does that imply for being created (physically) in the image and likeness of God?

    When you look at the similarities between chimps and humans, isn’t it likely that we both descended from a common ancestor? Or is it more likely that God created unique humans and unique but incredibly similar (physically and psychologically) chimpanzees? I have no doubt that God could create anything He wants, de novo. But He seems, by physical evidence, to have put into effect a plan of evolution.

    I used to be a YEC, compartmentalizing my scientific knowledge and my theology, not letting the two meet, except that in science, I saw the beauty of God in all His creation. When I realized that it was a kind of deception I was practicing, I truly struggled with Scripture, how to understand it. I came to realize that there was no slippery slope after all if I didn’t treat the Bible as if it were a science and history textbook.

    God had a plan for us, and when we grew into it, He made Himself known to, and entered into a relationship with, us. Doesn’t that set us apart enough?

  • Susan_G1

    Milton, (Wolfe, please correct me if I’m wrong)

    If one thinks of marsupials as exactly parallel to extant placental species, I would agree with you that it would stretch my belief of evolutionary theory to the breaking point.

    That is not the case. There are no exact parallels. There are no marsupial wolves, pigs, antelopes, cats, dogs, skunks, rabbits, raccoons, foxes, sheep, bats, cows, weasels, etc. The marsupial “wolf” was more like a cat than a canine. The marsupial dog is the same thing as the marsupial wolf. The marsupial “cats” don’t really look like placental cats – they have long hind legs and a freaky tail. Marsupials seem to have more developed hind limbs (think kangaroos bandicoots, etc), whereas many placentals have more refined fore limbs. No marsupials are aquatic (otters) or hooved. Marsupial squirrels don’t look like our squirrels, esp. ‘skelletally’. The only exacts aren’t parallels – they are the opossums. They have more kinds of opossums than we do. Their mice are placental, but they do have a mole.

    Interestingly, their hindlimbs are more functional than their forelimbs because, as newborns, they need more developed forelimbs to crawl into the pouch; this limits the degree to which their forelimbs can later develop, while their hindlimbs are more ‘embryonic’ and therefore more divergent. The need to crawl to the pouch to develop further also explains why there are no marsupial winged or hooved mammals – they couldn’t crawl very well compared to the splayed forelimbs of existing marsupial newborns.

    When one looks at it this way, I think evolution is supported pretty nicely, and convergent evolution makes more sense.

  • Susan_G1

    My biggest problem with evolution is in understanding “evil” and “suffering” (I guess I could add thorns and farming and pain in childbirth and carnivores). Clearly, with evolution, death, suffering, and strife existed before the fall. Death of protohominids as well as countless living and extinct species. Protohominids that could think, feel, cry, love, plan… will they be resurrected like stillborn babes? Was protohuminid murder (it certainly occurred) in God’s will? What makes sin before Adam essentially different than after (obviously not the punishment of death)? I don’t understand theodicy in the context of evolution. If pre-fall death and suffering is “good” – as in God saw it and pronounced it good – what makes it bad after the fall? Is ‘evil’ only disobedience of God? You get the idea…

  • wolfeevolution

    Fascinating points, Susan. I wanted to go in this direction — showing how the similarities only go so far — but I lacked the biology chops to do so. Perfect!

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil,

    Of course what sets us apart most is not only physical
    but also spiritual, as you said. But of course we have physical features that set us apart also. Of course we do. Is this real life?

    But I would never say only our physical bodies are what
    indicates that we are created in the image of God. But the reason I wouldn’t say this isn’t because it would present a dilemma with the reality of human disability. There are plenty of theological answers to that, and none of them throw out the physical and spiritual reality that we were created in the image of God. What, besides our limited human perspective, leads you to believe that a disabled person is less created in the image of God, or that it even presents a conflict in saying that all humans are? Where does that idea come from? It seems you are assuming
    that perfect physical health is the standard of being created in the image of God, which would mean that you believe there is a physical separation that humans have from everything else after all.

  • Joey Elliott

    AHH,

    I really will try to discipline myself to read those
    articles. If anything, I suppose it gets at the “evidence” for common ancestry with humans that I was asking for, as well as anything.

    As I said to Phil, I agree that the image of God is more
    than just physical – spiritual, relationships, responsibility, etc. But of course it is also physical, Of course it is! Explain one flesh? Explain marriage as a picture of the gospel? Explain that Jesus, who came as, and is
    still, fully human (while also being fully God) is the image of the invisible God, the EXACT REPRESENTATION of his being? Are we really talking about interpreting this as not literal, but a metaphorical representation only? Jesus was an actual human being, physically. And he is God. But we are not created in the image of God physically, even though what I just said is absolutely true? Why would we
    say no here? Only because it confuses science, I gather, which apparently is worse than confusing Scripture. That is the conversation I want to have, and as you said, I’m not sure I’ve seen it on here before.

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    As I said to Phil and AHH, yes we are biologically unique. Of course we are. I realize we are not only biologically unique, but we are. Just because there are a bunch of similarities between us and another species (which I can’t dispute) does not automatically mean that there are not
    also significant biological differences, and even more importantly does not automatically mean that we come from the same ancestor. That would not be science, but a wild guess, and one that contradicts Scripture profoundly. Now, the human genome evidence could offer more to what you are offering, but observing the similarities only and interpreting that to mean that we are not unique physically (as if everything is exactly the same), and to mean that we came from the same original species, is definitely a stretch.

    On your point about our more highly developed brains, how is this not a physical distinction to prove my point? And, as I asked Phil, where do you get the idea that a less developed brain, which you subjectively determine would make that person “less intelligent” than a chimp, would be
    inconsistent with being created in the image of God? You ask how I reconcile this, and my response is, what makes you think it has to be reconciled? Where do we get the categories that truths can’t exist in tension, so therefore one or the other has to be wrong? Or, where do we get the categories that a less physically capable human is less created in the image of God than a perfect
    physical specimen? I know that is the question you are basically asking me, but why is this question even a theological problem for you?

    God created us in his image for his glory. What about a
    disabled person is less in the image of God, physically, or less able to bring glory to God? Nothing! You ask what does this imply for being created physically in the image of God? It implies that both disabled and healthy are
    physically created in the image of God, and the standard is not perfect physical health. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t physical uniqueness that makes both created in the image of God.

    I want to reiterate the point I made to AHH about Jesus
    being human. He did not come to earth as a chimp. Yes, as a human, he had and has biological similarities to a chimp (which he created), but he of course also had and has drastic physical differences that matter, as we do. How, as the exact representation of his being, could Jesus, as God, not be biologically and physically different from a chimp? If our creation in the image of God is
    not dependent on our being physically unique from a chimp, could God in Jesus have come as a human or a chimp and either way still been the exact representation
    of God, in whose image we were created in, but chimps weren’t?

    I am concerned the wording in my questioning is
    confusing. I did the best I could.

  • Phil Miller

    What, besides our limited human perspective, leads you to believe that a disabled person is less created in the image of God, or that it even presents a conflict in saying that all humans are? Where does that idea come from? It seems you are assuming that perfect physical health is the standard of being created in the image of God, which would mean that you believe there is a physical separation that humans have from everything else after all.

    I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying.

    What I’m saying is that if you insist that us being created in the image of God is tied to the fact that we’re biologically homo sapiens, than it would follow that those who have physical defect in their bodies are in some way further away from being image bearers that able-bodied people are. We all reject that notion though. None of us (I hope) would say that someone confined to a wheelchair bears less of the image of God than someone who isn’t. So if we agree to that premise, we’re saying that what makes us an image bearer isn’t our physical body. It’s something else.

    Now we can argue all day about what that something else is, I suppose. There’s been all sorts of discussion about throughout the centuries. The discussion about the incarnation below is a decent point. Could Jesus been incarnated as something biologically different than a human. I would say yes, but it’s kind of a moot point. Perhaps humans represent a unique species in the fact that we possess a degree of self-reflection not present in others, and in that sense, God was “waiting” in a sense for that to happen before the incarnation could occur.

  • Rory Tyer

    The phrase “exact representation” of the Father cannot include Jesus’ physicality as such because elsewhere Scripture teaches – and Jesus would have affirmed wholeheartedly – that God is spirit.

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil,

    I did not say that I believe the image of God is “tied” to the fact that we’re biologically unique. But I did say it is a part of it. So in my opinion it would not follow that those who have defects are further away from being image bearers. That would not be what follows. They are not further away. What makes you think that is what would follow? You are defining “defect” from a human perspective, not an eternal one. Who are we to say that a “defect” makes a person less human and therefore less of an image bearer? You are trying to be logical I know but I’m trying to change the categories here. It is not a given that a physical “defect” affects anything concerning what we are talking about.

    Jesus could not have been incarnated as something different than a human, and it is not a moot point. What did you mean by that? You are merely speculating about why Jesus could have come to earth as something else. Why are you doing that?

  • Joey Elliott

    Rory,

    Then why did Jesus come as (and remains now) a human?

    For the record, I do not believe that the Father is human. Whoa. Definitely not. But I do believe Jesus coming as a human as the exact imprint of God’s nature says a great deal about what it means that we were created in the image of God (image – physical and spiritual).

  • Phil Miller

    It is not a given that a physical “defect” affects anything concerning what we are talking about.

    Sure it does… If we start valuing certain physical traits more than other because we see them as being stronger, purer, i.e., closer to what God intended, than it’s not a huge step to start thinking that we can get rid of the people who don’t meet the standard.

    Jesus could not have been incarnated as something different than a human, and it is not a moot point. What did you mean by that?

    It’s a moot point because it’s a pure hypothetical. Jesus was incarnated as a human being. It’s already happened, so talking about whether it could have been different is sort of a waste of time. I don’t believe God was bound in any sense to using the human form as we know it, but that is how things played out. We can debate as to whether it was all foreordained or whether chance really played a role, and that may have some validity. But it’s something I really interested in debating at the present.

  • Rory Tyer

    There are two answers to your question.

    1. We don’t know, because the Bible does not answer this sort of question.
    2. Because God had purposed to save humans.

    The third answer is that I do not think I have seen any biblical scholars who would agree with you that “image” has physical connotations. The best explanation I have heard for what it means to be created in God’s “image” is that the Hebrew word used for image is also used of monuments to kings placed in territories that they have conquered as a reminder to those territories of who rules them, even though the king himself is absent. On this reading, “image” has much more to do with function and vocation than it does with physicality.

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil,

    Who is valuing certain physical traits more than others? I am not doing that, so my point stands. In fact, that makes my point.

    Why it is bad to say that Jesus HAD to come as a human and that God did it that way for a reason? Why is that hard to acknowledge? How is this not clear in Scripture?

  • Susan_G1

    God/Jesus could have come down as anything He wanted, including an entirely new, perfect, superior species. God could do anything He wants, can’t He? God did not choose a sacrificial system of restoration by force or necessity. That happened to be the way He chose. He could have tied forgiveness with sacrifice forever. Why are you putting handcuffs on God?

  • Phil Miller

    Joey,
    I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m talking about things on a conceptual level here. When we evaluate philosophical and theological concepts we have to be willing to look at where they can potentially take us. I’m not saying that you’re on your way to becoming a eugenicist… I’m just saying that ideas sometimes have unintended consequences.

  • Susan_G1

    Joey, do you think a human-being-God-Jesus-Holy-Spirit always was, is, and ever shall be? Do you think this being with humanity existed before the Universe came into being (which He created)? I don’t understand.

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    I am not putting handcuffs on God. Why is saying he does things for a reason putting “handcuffs” on him?

    He came in Jesus as a human. I am saying he did this for a reason. You say it doesn’t matter, he could have done anything he wants, which of course he could have. But he did it this way. It is not moot. God is not random.

    Right?

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil,

    What ideas? What unintended consequences? What are you talking about? I’m just responding to your point that human defects mean that we aren’t physically created in God’s image. I am saying no they don’t. Why would they?

  • Susan_G1

    “Can I ask a simple question? Let’s say I concede and believe in common descent and macro-evolution for Austrialian marsupials, and several other species that perhaps there could be convincing evidence despite the fact that it is not “observable” by a single human.

    Even if I did that, how do theistic evolutionists make the jump that this applies to humans?”

    You don’t want a discussion. You want to convince (?) that you have the only and correct answer. You want to write on a super-prescription pad who God is and what He can and can’t do, and have it filled by Him.

    “Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it?…”

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    I believe that the second person of the Triune God, Jesus, became a human (was not originally) and remains so for eternity. And I believe this matters very much. We are becoming like Christ, who is human. And this doesn’t mean we are “evolving” away from our humanity into something more superior (or that he did). It means he is perfecting our humanity to be like him.

    This is not happening with any other species. So as humans, we are unique in every way, which includes physically, if for no other reason than because we will also, like Jesus, remain physically human in the eternal state. Not anything else, and not spiritual only.

    This is all of course a great mystery!

  • Phil Miller

    You can’t have it both ways, Joey. That’s the problem… If you’re saying that humans are physically created in God’s image than that implies there is some physical standard as to what it means to be created in God’s image. So what exactly is that physical standard then? It’s a pretty simple question. Is it having a fully-functional brain? There are people with damaged brains that don’t meet that standard… Is it having a fully functional nervous system? Again, there are people who don’t meet that criterion.

    So if you’re saying we’re physically created in God’s image, what does that mean?

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    I do want to have a discussion. That is why I am here. Do you?

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil,

    Sorry if I’m being a pest. Or repetitive. Truly, I am. This is all great dialogue, don’t you think?

    Saying that humans are physically created in God’s image does not imply that there is some physical standard (that we can know). You think it implies that, I am arguing that it doesn’t.

    To say that humans are physically created in God’s image is simply to say that we are created in God’s image and also that we are physical. That is all. I know you believe we are physical, but for some reason you believe that is just coincidence or something and all that matters in our creation in God’s image is everything else about us, but our being physical. I’m sorry, but to my brain that makes no sense.

  • Joey Elliott

    Rory,

    I am just not sure how “image” doesn’t have physical connotations, or how anyone would separate the two. We are created in the image of God. We are physical. Both true. Why does “created in the image of God” have limitations? It is how we were created. We were created with physical bodies, in addition to souls and abilities that other species don’t have, etc. All part of God’s image, no?

    If our “physicalness” is not part of how we were created (which is in God’s image), what it is then?

  • Phil Miller

    Yes, we’re all physical and the material world matters… But the specific form that humans evolved into isn’t the thing that matters. If, for instance, we evolved for some reason to have 6 fingers on our hands it wouldn’t make a bit of difference as to whether or not we were created in God’s image. Perhaps we could have evolved as quadrupeds… It wouldn’t have mattered…

    You’re saying there’s something special about the human body compared to all other animals. In some sense there is… Our brains, for instance, show much more development and complexity than other animals. But I’m saying that perhaps it was because of that fact that God chose to reveal Himself to us in a different way than to other creatures. What makes us unique is the way God chose to relate to us, it’s not necessarily the physical bodies we have.

  • Susan_G1

    of course I do, but I don’t understand your insistence. I am not insisting on anything except that God can do anything He pleases.

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil,

    Then why will our physical bodies be eternal? Do you believe that?

  • Milton Pope

    Thank you, Susan. Yes, that makes a difference. Wolfe, I’m with you now.

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    I would insist on the same. I just would also insist that what he does do he does for a reason. Can you insist on the same?

  • Susan_G1

    Yes, I agree that God chooses to do whatever He does for a reason. But I am not one with God, and I am not cognizant of His reasons for everything. I have beliefs. But that is what they are, my beliefs.

    Can you admit that what you have are your beliefs? No matter what they are based on, they are still your beliefs?

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t see how the question relates, honestly. Our resurrection bodies will be physical, but also trans-physical. I’m not sure where the “why” comes in to play.

  • Joey Elliott

    Of course. What I have are my beliefs. I believe that God created man in his image, physically and spiritually, and that he did so uniquely from any other species, which means from the dust, not from the evolution from any other common ancestor. All of that is my belief only (founded in Scripture).

    Can you admit that it is your belief only (founded in science) that man did evolve from another species?

  • Joey Elliott

    It comes in because the eternal nature of our physical bodies indicates that they have unique value (per your point about considering that philosophical concepts take us somewhere).

    If our resurrection bodies will be physical and trans-physical (not trans-physical only), how is the physical aspect of them not part of what makes us unique? And if the physical part of them is not part of what makes us unique, why will our resurrection bodies not only be “trans-physical”?

    As a sidenote, I am not sure what you mean by “trans-physical”.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Joey – and what is science, other than the application of reason and logic to the evidence around us, which even St Paul declares to be part of God’s message to us. If you want to claim that our reason misleads us as to the evidence, why wouldn’t / couldn’t our reason mislead us as to Scriptural interpretation?

  • Phil Miller

    By “trans-physical” I mean there will be something about them that transcends our experience in them now. There will be a continuity and a discontinuity in them, to steal a phrase from N.T. Wright.

  • Joey Elliott

    Klasie,

    It could. I could be wrong. What are you asking exactly?

    I was asking Susan to admit that her thinking that man evolved from something else is a belief only, just as my thinking that man didn’t evolve is a belief. I am still hoping she answers the question. You are free to as well.

    Reason / logic / evidence does not mean it is more than a belief. In both our cases.

  • Joey Elliott

    Good enough. I agree with all that.

    What do you think about my question?

  • Susan_G1

    Yes, I can admit that it is my belief only, that I have no proof, that man and the great apes evolved from a common ancestor.

    Scripture is given to us in words. If Scripture is all we have, can you admit that you do not know the whole of God’s mind?

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    Of course I do not know the whole of God’s mind from Scripture alone. Yet, what I do know, from Scripture alone, is sufficient for life and godliness (and salvation).

  • Phil Miller

    I’ve pretty much addressed your question earlier as to what makes us unique. You obviously don’t accept my answer. That’s fine, but I’m not going to continue to go around in circles. Your mind seems to be made up.

  • Susan_G1

    Agreed, completely.

    Do you think Scripture is complete in it’s explanations of how man was made? That is, is there room for different interpretations from your own? If you do, this discussion can proceed. If you think there is only one interpretation, we need to agree to disagree. The next step, if you believe there are other possible interpretations, is what possibilities are you open to? Are you open to God communicating principles/concepts through story in a way that was not scientific fact, but rather, in speaking to people in ancient times, communicated His creation story in a way unscientific people would understand it?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    There is a lot of actual evidence that we evolved from something else. It is not “mere belief”. I used to think the same as you, until the evidence convinced me otherwise.

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    Oh no, I’m on the defensive! I see what you did there. Haha.

    I suppose I couldn’t say that Scripture is “complete” about how man was made (it doesn’t have to be). But I don’t think there is room for “different interpretations” that contradict objective truths of Scripture (which are possible!) – like the fact that man is created in the image of God. That is a truth, not an interpretation of a truth, agree?

    So if the incompleteness of Scripture in the exact creation of man is supplemented with “evidence” that seems to indicate (seems only) that man evolved from something else that was not created in the image of God, to me that is a contradiction (in the theological problems it creates, and which I am asking about, but not getting great answers to), and so there is not room for that “different interpretation”.

    We are at risk of getting circular here! I think that is my fault. But I think this has been good.

  • Joey Elliott

    Klasie,

    Not going to let you off the hook here. To your point, “actual evidence” still requires interpretation, in this case flawed human interpretation, which means it is mere belief. Just as my “actual evidence” from Scripture is ultimately belief. Although I could say that the “evidence” has convinced me otherwise, and that I believe it to be factual truth. But I’m trying to get some common ground here. This discussion is about faith.

    So you’re running away from human evolution as belief, which is a dead end.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Joey – be careful now. Are you denying that we can ever know anything? You are coming dangerously close to destroying ll epistemology here.

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil,

    I agree we don’t want to go in circles. But you didn’t answer my more directed follow-up question:

    “If our resurrection bodies will be physical and trans-physical (not trans-physical only), how is the physical aspect of them not part of what makes us unique? And if the physical part of them is not part of what makes us unique, why will our resurrection bodies not only be “trans-physical”?

    I’m just asking how logically you think this through.

    Thanks.

  • Joey Elliott

    Klasie,

    That is definitely not what I am arguing. I could passionately argue the opposite. I am just saying that human evolution is something you can’t know beyond belief.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    But I say you can, based on evidence. And then you say it is just interpretation. But so is everything – including your reading of the words on your computer screen, in your bible, and listening to what your pastor says. If you want to make this argument, you should be able to say why the information is insufficient. Otherwise you are either just throwing statements out, or you are denying that one can ever know anything, both of which are unacceptable.

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t see how the question is any different than what I answered earlier. Being physically unique isn’t the important thing in regards to use being the chosen as God’s representatives on earth (that is really what being created in His image comes down to, anyway). I don’t understand why you’re getting hung up this, really. I don’t see what difference it makes.

  • Susan_G1

    OK, I agree than man was created in the image of God, for sure. If God is omniscient (which He is), do you think it’s possible for Him to have, knowing the entire process and knowing the end result, created us over time, in a scientifically predictable (to Him) manner? This would mean there were intermediaries between the beginning of His creating us and the endpoint He preconceived. If that is too unbelievable to you, please ask yourself honestly why you do not believe God is capable of working in this manner. Is it because of the uniqueness of man? If so, what makes man less unique if this is the way God chose to make us? Man is still man, and is, as we agree, made in God’s image and likeness. – I want to understand the theological problem, precisely, that this possibility raises for you. This is what RJS asked: what would it take to allow you to think this was possible? What is most troubling about this? Can God work in a stepwise fashion to create us, whom He placed above the angels, who are now in His image and likeness? Why not? I’m not saying I know this for sure. I’m saying I don’t know that He didn’t do this.

  • Joey Elliott

    Obviously you don’t see what difference it makes, that is why I’m hung up on it. I think it makes a difference.

    I’m just trying to logically understand how you can say it doesn’t make a difference. And then, if you saw that it does, how you can accept the physical uniqueness of humans and still hold that we came from something else that was not equally unique in God’s image.

  • Joey Elliott

    Klasie,

    The information on human evolution is insufficient because it doesn’t make sense with the reality that we were created in the image of God, which applies both to our physical and spiritual nature.

    Can you help me understand how it makes sense with this reality?

  • Phil Miller

    I’ll say it once more, and then I’m done. I’ve explained a number of times, but you just won’t hear it for some reason. The fact that we were created in God’s image is something exists apart from the specific details and anatomy of our physical body. God didn’t have body when the world was created. The incarnation had not yet happened. Jesus wasn’t human prior to the incarnation, but yet He was still God prior to the incarnation.

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    Very good questions. I think this conversation just took a positive turn.

    Obviously I see troubling theological implications to man evolving from anything. I have not specifically laid all those implications out, but originally just asked if there could be specific conversation about those implications alone. But without listing them, I understand that expecting them all to be addressed in an orderly way is unrealistic.

    First, and the one I have highlighted here, is that it seems like a stretch, both theologically and scientifically, to hold that man was created in God’s image and also originally something besides man, not in God’s image. But as I already said, truths can exist in tension. I just think these two need way more explanation on the theological level. Some of that has happened here, with the reality of our physical bodies, and how they make a difference, but much more could and needs to be said, and already these comments are very broken so might be better to start from scratch.

    There are many others, but sadly, I am running out of time today. I would be willing to continue on this chain over the weekend and even into next week, but I also understand if that is difficult.

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil,

    I understand that we’ve beat the horse too much here. I’m really sorry, but I still don’t understand your explanation. I don’t understand how our physical body is a reality different than every other part of us that was created in God’s image, as if he created the soul, the relationship, and the responsibility, and then when he created the physical he stopped creating in his image and just created that part like every other species, but still valued our bodies more than other species in promising to resurrect them in perfection, like His Son, who came to earth as none other than a human, of all things.

    But I sincerely appreciate the dialogue. Have a great weekend.

  • Susan_G1

    Whenever is fine. If God created man from dust, shaped that dust like a man, and then breathed life into him, was that dust creation not originally something besides man and not in God’s image? God did not speak man into existence as he did the universe; He says He made him from something that existed before man that was not man. If it’s a story, God’s story to an ancient people, could he be simplifying? He made woman from biological matter, a rib. A part of His creation. Does it bother you that He made them from different materials? My guess is not. Because that’s what you’ve believed for some time. This is a stretch here, but does it really matter from what (not man and not his image yet) God made mankind? If He made man from carbon and nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen, iron, sodium, potassium and calcium, I think that would be OK, too, no?

    Now, you need to read some posts by Peter Enns. Maybe start here http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2012/01/the-real-problem-evangelicals-have-with-evolution-and-what-needs-to-be-done-about-it/ and here http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/07/evangelicals-and-evolution-expecting-from-the-bible-what-its-not-set-up-to-deliver/. Then listen, if you will to all of denis lamoureux’s slide shows starting here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/04/what-is-evolutionary-creation-let-denis-lamoureux-tell-you-he-wrote-the-book/. Then let’s reconnect. They can take you through an introduction (which you don’t have to believe, but you should expose yourself to.) Enjoy… :)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    How are we an exact copy of God physically? We say God is male – so women are not in his image? Does he have European/African/Asian features? Is he hairy like I am, or smooth like someone else? Do other primates not look a lot like man? So are they 75% in the image of God? Is it an affront to him? If so, why did he make them thus. If not, why couldn’t he make humans using them as an interim, and at the fullness of time they’ve reached his image.

    I’m sorry, but you are really getting silly now….

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    First, to briefly respond to your last point, God could have and maybe did do any one of the things you mentioned. And yes, dust is something else not in the image of God. You got me. All I’m trying to get is an admission that the possibility that he created exactly as I’m saying Scripture said he did is as likely as all the rest. Theologically, especially. But even scientifically.

    And just to clarify, I don’t NEED to read anything by Peter Enns. Just want to make sure that’s clear. But I have, and did again. I even engaged with one of those articles on my own blog more than a year ago (in its original form in the Wash Post). I hate to break it to you, but I don’t appreciate Enns’ perspective or his tone. I don’t think he even has an accurate pulse on what he refers to as “mainstream evangelical consciousness”.

    I will look at the slide show this weekend. Thanks for sharing.

  • Joey Elliott

    Klasie,

    Whoa. I did not say we are an exact copy of God physically. You’re building a straw man, friend, and have lost (intentionally perhaps) the entire flow of my argument.

    Anyone can ask a bunch of silly questions while accusing the other person of being the silly one. Let’s not do that.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    No, you implied that because we are made in the Image of God PHYSICALLY, we could not have evolved. I answered that objection in two ways, namely that you cannot take Image of God in a physical sense all that strictly, which opens lots of doors. Also, you do not account for “gradual” creation, or creation through a process in your argument at all.

  • Susan_G1

    Yeah, Pete’s style is not for everyone. It can be a barrier. I like him, though, and love his humor. And no, you don’t need to read him. Sorry. These things might help us advance in the discussion with a more complete background knowledge. I do hope you like Denis. He’s very good, and not snarky.

  • Joey Elliott

    I did not imply that. My argument is more nuanced than what you appear to be willing to engage with. I’m saying the physical part of being created in the image of God needs to be addressed theologically, not thrown out as unimportant to the discussion. I’m really sorry, but I’m out of time. I hope you have a great weekend.

  • RJS4DQ

    Susan,

    I did a long series on Denis’s book a while back. I like his book. He can present an excellent argument and do it well. Unfortunately on the issue of Adam and Genesis he can also be rather inflexible and argumentative. It really hurts his ability to get a hearing.

    This points to the absolute importance of patience and respect in these discussions within the church.

  • AHH

    Enns can indeed be too provocative and snarky for many tastes (occasionally including mine) on his blog and other popular writings.
    His books are another matter — thoughtful and gracious, and IMO deeply insightful. So I recommend Inspiration and Incarnation and The Evolution of Adam to anybody looking to study these issues of how to read the OT as Christians.

  • Susan_G1

    RJS, I’m sorry I was unaware of your series on Denis. I will look at it this weekend.

    I agree about Denis, which surprises. His argument is really cogent, though.

    Do you know a better resource online? I would recommend Francis Collins but it’s a book.

  • Joey Elliott

    AHH,

    Appreciate the understanding on a difficulty with Enns. And since you mentioned Inspiration and Incarnation, I thought the timing was right to share, with anyone interested, my personal testimony with the topic of the inerrancy of Scripture. It is not a scientific, theological or academic argument. It is a testimony only.

    josephgibsonelliott.blogspot.com/2012/05/this-is-word-of-god.html

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    I think I’ll look into RJS review on Denis’s book, because I do appreciate her approach to these topics. The slide show was helpful insofar as it identified the categories of belief and the differences, but it didn’t really offer me any more elaboration on the troubling theological implications of macro evolution with humans specifically. I still have not seen an honest analysis of these things, or at least one that is convincing to me.

  • AHH

    Joey,

    It might help to back up a step. Much of this conversation has been several of us saying (based on the consensus of OT scholars) that the “image of God” does not have to do with our physical natures, that rather it is a role God has given us.

    But for the sake of discussion, let’s say you are right that our specific physicality is an essential part of the “image of God”. So what? I don’t see how this makes evolution objectionable. How does it matter whether God produced our image-bearing physicality by gradual shaping via evolution or by de novo creation? Either way, God has made us into physical beings, able to be his images.

    I wonder if your underlying issue here is really the uniqueness of humans as God’s images, which is something Scripture teaches. Of course our species is unique (whether God created our bodies suddenly or via evolution), in the same way each species is unique. Physically, our uniqueness is not really different from that of other species (so the physical uniqueness of humans from chimps is similar to that of gorillas from chimps). I’d say we are more unique culturally and spiritually, but science can’t measure that.

    A key point is where we ground our uniqueness. In God’s eyes, our uniqueness is not in any physical trait (as has been pointed out, that would lead to excluding some with disabilities from being seen as images). Instead, it is because God has uniquely chosen our species to bear his image (and ultimately to incarnate in). I think we have to locate our special-ness not in any aspect of our physicality, but simply in God’s choice. Much like Israel was not intrinsically special among the nations, but only became special because God chose Israel (for God’s inscrutable reasons) as his vehicle for blessing the nations.

    P.S. to Scot or RJS: this discussion is harder to follow because the “Recent Comments” links on Patheos have bad URLs. This has been happening frequently, maybe 1 post a day has that problem. Can you ask Patheos to look into this bug?

  • Phil Miller

    I believe the reason the “recent comments” links don’t work has to with the fact that some post are written earlier and posted at a later date, and the date in the url doesn’t change, or the author changes the title and the url doesn’t match. I’ve noticed it too.

  • RJS4DQ

    This one you can blame on Disqus. The commenting system seems to pick up early draft titles and links and is blind to subsequent changes. I thought better of my earliest title on this one, long before the post went live, and Disqus didn’t adjust.

    The threaded comment system also makes it very hard for me to follow conversations – that one you can blame on Disqus as well.

    Personally I think the introduction of Disqus is one of the very worst moves Patheos has made. Even worse than the various ills of the ads. While annoying, the ads pay the bills and don’t inherently interfere with conversation.

  • Patrick

    An existing live example of any species change. Something we could all agree is an example.

    It makes so little logic to me that all the “tweeners” died off and no new ones are walking or swimming or flying around.

    Theologically, I have no problems with it at all. I just don’t buy the storyline w/o a living example.

  • AHH

    In some sense, existing live examples could include the AIDS virus and antibiotic-resistant germs.
    And some examples of speciation observed by human scientists are here:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/speciation.html
    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/100201_speciation

    But the way of wording things indicates some misunderstanding about what biologists mean by transitional forms (I assume that’s what you mean by “tweeners”). You can’t look at something today and say “this is a transitional form” — that can only be labeled retrospectively after the speciation has happened. A good article about transitions comes from the American Scientific Affiliation (professional org for Christians in science):
    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/resources/Miller.html

  • RJS4DQ

    Patrick,

    If I understand your question, it is one I tried to address in this post: No Crocoducks, But Just As Good. It isn’t that all tweeners have died off.

    The coelacanth is another example I think – as in the post Tiktaalik roseae revisited.

  • wolfeevolution

    Hi Joey,

    Returning late to the party, I see most of your points have already been addressed in considerable detail. I especially appreciated Susan’s points about the philosophical similarity between dust and early hominids as raw material for God’s creating humans and about the similarities humans and chimpanzees share, and Rory’s comments about God’s image.

    You ask why macroevolution is “forced” upon humans. It’s not forced, Joey. The evolution of homo sapiens is deduced from the evidence in exactly the same way that it is with every other species. In fact, one thing that (surprisingly to me) hasn’t come up in this comment thread is the many, many intermediate species in the fossil record between modern homo sapiens and the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. This evidence is not hiding under a rock! Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolution) can take you through ardipithecus, australopithecus, and various homo species (habilis, ergaster, erectus, neadertal, etc.). While not all these species make for a strictly linear progression from apes to humans — evolutionary theory would not predict that they would — overall the evidence strongly shows gradual transitions from more ape-like to more human-like characteristics. Just like Klasie said in an earlier comment, walk 5,280 feet and you get a mile! By the time you get to neadertals you’re so close to anatomically modern humans that some have found genetic evidence that the two species mated. As I asked you in last week’s posts, where do you draw the line for what is one “kind” and what is another? What do you do with this part of the fossil record?

    Bear in mind that Scripture never says we were created in God’s image. It never even says we were created in imago dei. It says we were created בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים / בְּצַלְמוֹ / בְּצַלְמֵנוּ. I’m not being a smart aleck. The point is that we often forget that there are no exact correspondences between two words in two languages. Words cannot be divorced from their cultural contexts, and the culture of ancient Israel differs substantially from the culture of the 21st century North America. Because the Bible was not written in English, we simply cannot appeal to the “plain meaning of the text,” as if the American understanding of “in God’s image” was good enough for Moses so it should be good enough for us. In fact, many scholars read the preposition בְּ here as meaning that we were created as the image of God, not in the image of God. As Rory said, for a reader in the Ancient Near East, this would have conjured to mind images (pardon the pun) of a king’s representative statue.

    As I see it, for God to create us to be His representatives it was not necessary for Him to create us with any of His characteristics, necessarily. I could make a robot to be my representative somewhere, and it would not necessarily have to look like me. This is why Genesis 1:26 doesn’t say, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may have the capacity of moral reasoning, a conscience and superior speech capabilities” (or anything else that is said to make us human). It says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over” the other creatures. Being His image = ruling and representing.

    Jesus did not come in human form because of the innate superiority of the human form. He came because God loved us, and He knew that sending His Son in such a way that He was like us in every way was the best way to redeem us.

    Our human forms are not eternal because the human form is superior, but because God loves every part of us: body, soul, and spirit. He has chosen to redeem it all.

    Lastly I’d like to offer that nobody here (unless I’m wrong? anybody?) disputes the uniqueness of humanity, both physically and spiritually. We just feel that that God created that uniqueness by means of gradual processes.

    Does this clarify anything?

  • Susan_G1

    You are correct. These tend to support why it is not wrong to believe in evolution, but do not deal then with the theological implications, at least in the posts. The comments sections contain more theological discussion.

    I can’t discuss these views at length with all of their implications, their proponents (Howard J. Van Till, etc, although Van Till does have the same problems with uniqueness as you seem to have, and I see Cornelius Van Til in your concerns about God’s nature), etc. Partly because Theology is not my strong point, partly because of the time involved. These concede the Creation account must be seen as some kind of Myth or poetry, which if seen as history or science, is killed. They do not, I think, subvert the trustworthiness of Scripture.

    There are, as I’m pretty sure you know, several schools of thought on how evolution and “Adam and Eve” co-exist. Some believe that there need not be a specific Adam and Eve, as we are all fallen and in need of salvation, and that A&E are all of us. We would all choose to sin. God is known to us all. We all need Christ.

    Others think that at some point in evolution, God determined we were ready to be enlightened by Him, and He entered into relationship with either a pair of humans or a group of representative humans. That began the covenantial relationship between us all. I presume the other, non-Adamic lines died out.

    Some are willing to concede evolution occurred but not human evolution, that God created Adam and Eve and the rest falls into place. “No Adam, No Eve, No Gospel” sums up this position. My question here is, where did all the other people come from who existed at the time Cain killed Abel? Was the search for Eve among other people or only among the animals?

    There now exists evidence for a genetic y-chromosomal Adam who appears to be the progenitor of all males on this planet. There also exists genetic evidence for a mitochondrial Eve, who appears to me the mother of all humans now alive. There exists evidence that they could have lived at the same time. This might be the Adam and Eve of the Old Testament. God may well have chosen this pair as the two who would enter into relationship with Him. This is attractive, because it would answer the question of why there were already cities and other humans to fear and be a wife to Cain at the time Cain killed Abel.

    Adam and Eve lived in the bronze age, or very close to it. The above would allow this to work.

    Are there some I missed, anyone?

    Joey, perhaps this helps you not at all, because it’s very possible you’re needing answers of the kind that answer a different question. I can understand this, as I have difficulties of my own (see my comment on the problems I have with evolution).

    If this is a help, let me know and we can go further. If it’s not a help, let us know, and maybe someone else can wrestle alongside of you with the issues you struggle with.

    Hope to hear from you.

  • wolfeevolution

    Hi Susan, and Joey,

    BioLogos has a great post about why y-chromosomal Adam and mitochondrial Eve couldn’t have been the Biblical first couple. I recommend it: http://biologos.org/blog/understanding-evolution-mitochondrial-eve-y-chromosome-adam.

    Enjoying the conversation,
    Wolfe

  • Susan_G1

    glad to have your contributions, Wolfe. Edited to add: I read that paper. Hmm, two points: a) The latest papers state an overlap between Y chromosome Adam (YA) and mitochondrial Eve (ME), and b.) The third cross represented a somatic chromosome (don’t know why), not supporting their statement. I’m not a geneticist, but there is no reason there couldn’t have been a smallish pool of MEs and YAs. It only takes one cross YAxME to have the original couple.

    Having said that, I need to think about this some more. The supposition is that there were multiple YAxME pairings? So, the ‘covenant’ with one pair, and that pair being the ancestors of mankind is unlikely, is what makes this scenario unsound… OK. Will think some more.

  • wolfeevolution

    I am even further from being a geneticist than you are, Susan! If by “the third cross” you mention, you mean their very last diagram, I think they’re saying that even if every man today has y-chromosomal Adam’s y chromosome and mitochondrial Eve’s mitochondria, this doesn’t mean people today don’t have *other* genetic material (i.e., not mitochondria or y chromosomes) from other early humans living around the same time as YA and ME. In other words, scientifically, YA and ME were not the only humans living at that time, which is what our traditional reading of the Genesis 2-3 narrative suggests.

    Some might try to suggest, I suppose, that, out of all the humans living at that time, YA and ME were the ones that met with God, sinned, and passed their original sin on to us. But to me this is troubling. After all, we only have evidence of y-chromosomal Adam’s genes in modern humans that have y chromosomes, that is, the men. If we’re going to say original sin is encoded in our genetics, I wouldn’t want to say it was on the y chromosome! :) Although… that might explain a few things….

  • Susan_G1

    I vote for it being on the Y chromosome. After all, it’s supported in Scripture when Paul says, sin entered into the world through one man! :) Also, it might explain the increased criminal behavior in XYY men… And, it would explain why the virgin birth resulted in a sinless Christ!…on a more serious note, OK, I didn’t get that from the paper. D’oh! I need to re-read that section.

    I would have trouble if sin was initially encoded in our genes, though I have no trouble believing certain sins are *now* encoded in our genes, e.g., alcoholism, compulsive behaviors (eating, gambling), and I’m pretty certain we will find homosexuality is genetic. I attribute this to a fall in Nature as well as man.

  • wolfeevolution

    My second paragraph above wasn’t covered in the article; it was me ad-libbing off it.

    I agree that tendencies toward certain behaviors (although I’ll stay mum on sexual orientation) have genetic components. I guess I’m just skeptical about the possibility that *all* of our diverse sinful behaviors could be traced to any one ancestor… and while we’re at it I suppose I’m also skeptical that it’s all genetic.

  • Susan_G1

    “All I’m trying to get is an admission that the possibility that he created exactly as I’m saying Scripture said he did is as likely as all the rest. Theologically, especially. But even scientifically.”

    I’ve been thinking about this. Theologically, it would all be neater and make more sense if God created Adam and Eve as stated in Scripture. I don’t think you’ll find many who’ll argue this point with you.

    Then you say, “but even scientifically.” That’s a problem for scientists. You’re asking them to ignore a ‘language’ they can read that is logical and beautiful. It’s a little like asking them to start a book with the last line, and leave it there. Whereas you are starting the book with the first line and are happy because it makes sense.

    The best example I can come up with is Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. To creationists (just referring to A&E here), the creation of A&E would be like this: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” It’s the beginning of the book and continues to go on to today.

    But to scientists, who are looking over eons and eons of evidence, they might look at the beginning of life with that particular sentence, and see the covenant with A&E as: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” What you’re asking us to do, as scientists, when you ask, is it scientifically possible that man was created as in Scripture, is to ignore the novel that comes between the two lines. It’s not nonsense to us. It’s a novel. Many of the lines are missing, sometimes pages, and sometimes a chapter, but we can still see the novel in between the first and the last line. You are basically asking, with your question, if we can admit that we start with the last line. It would be false of us to say, Yes, we *can* start there. It would be an act of will to start there; we’d need to cordon off the previous narrative and lock it away, not look at it.

    It’s interesting that the only way I can convey what I believe is through a story, for that is how I believe God conveyed the beginning to us as non-scientist ancients, through a story we could understand.

    I hope I haven’t derailed anything.

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    When I say “even scientifically”, I mostly mean on the molecular level. I realize it is a little unfair of me to “throw out” all the current “evidence” in genetics and with the fossil record that seems to indicate evolution, and specifically that humans evolved from something else (besides dust), but what is the current evidence on a molecular biological level that something can become something else? Specifically anything becoming a human, even with billions of years. This is where I think I need to be convinced scientifically before the fossils or genetics will be relevant. I hope that makes sense.

    I’m not sure if I’m tracking with the comparison of Tale of Two Cities with the narrative of Scripture. I appreciate the effort though. I of course believe a little more about what God was revealing in Genesis (history), so I personally don’t need a non-Scripture story to understand how God was communicating with us in this case.

  • Joey Elliott

    Wolfe,

    What is the molecular biological evidence that you rely on for macro evolution, specifically with humans? The fossil evidence is simply not convincing to me.

    Your interpretation of “image of God” is completely wrong in my opinion. Of course you don’t agree with my emphasis on our physical bodies in the image of God; you don’t even believe the text actually says “image of God”. I wish I could summarize what I see as your error here and why it matters in the form of a follow-up question that would keep the conversation going, but I don’t know where to start. Not sure where that leaves us.

  • wolfeevolution

    Joey,

    Susan already went over the molecular evidence with you, in her comment that appears directly beneath this: “Genetically we differ by about 1.5% of our DNA” from chimpanzees. The only other DNA evidence we have for hominins that aren’t homo sapiens is from preserved neandertal tissue, the genome of which has been recently sequenced. According to wikipedia — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal_genome_project— that genome differs from ours only by about 0.3%, so it’s even closer than chimpanzees.

    If the fossil evidence isn’t convincing to you, then may I ask what your story is to explain it? As an adviser of mine (in a scientific field) used to say, “You can’t beat something with nothing.” I know you’re under no obligation whatsoever to respond to me, but I just wanted to offer a little gentle pushback here: If you don’t believe the macroevolution story regarding these nearly-human species, I’d challenge you to tell me *your* story of how these intermediary fossils got there, and how they got there in the temporal progression that that appear in in the fossil record. Otherwise I have to say your response looks suspiciously like flat unwillingness to engage with truth that doesn’t fit your model for understanding Genesis.

    To clarify, I do feel that “image of God” is probably the best English translation. I just want to make sure you’re aware that competent scholars tell us that the original term had associations that are lost on speakers of English.

    It’s unfortunate to me that the conversation looks like it’s going to end with “well, you’re just wrong.” You posed what seemed to be honest, probing questions about how people deal with the theological challenges of human macroevolution, and I did my best to engage them with some of the tools that I’ve picked up in my journey, but rather than exploring and engaging further, you’ve decided just to state (without giving reasons) that I’m wrong, and then to move on. That’s perfectly fine, of course, but before the conversation ends I just want to point out that you’re the one doing the “I’m taking my ball and going home” play here, not me. I could, for instance, give you references on the “image of God” business, and we could explore why exactly it is that you think it’s wrong (other than, “Well, this is the first I’ve heard of it, so it *must* be wrong). But that’s okay. Anyway, if you want to engage the subject again, we can do this again sometime; all you have to do is dig up this post and hit “reply” and I’ll get an email notification, even years down the line. Until then I sincerely wish you all the best in your walk with the Lord, brother. Cheers.

  • wolfeevolution

    “This is where I think I need to be convinced scientifically before the fossils or genetics will be relevant.”

    This is a contradiction in terms. Fossils and genetics are scientific data.

    I’m trying to wrap my head around what would actually constitute “evidence” to you. You want somebody to recreate a human in a lab by accelerating billions of years of evolution (from single-celled organisms to humans) into a one-year study? Well, congratulations: You’ve set the bar so high you’ll never have to change your opinions.

    I actually don’t mind if you doggedly hold to these convictions. They’re not easy convictions to modify, as I think many of us here in the comments section can attest from personal experience. (I know I can.) Just, please, don’t go running around telling everyone else what heretics those commenters at Jesus Creed are for trying to make sense of the millions of data points you’ve decided to ignore. People who do that make it very hard for scientists to come to saving faith, and I don’t think you want to do that, do you?

  • Joey Elliott

    Wolfe,

    First, allow me to remind you that I am not new to these discussions, neither on this blog, nor in general. So my dismissing of evidence or walking away from a conversation is less about unwillingness to engage or counter, or interest in digging deeper, or ability or knowledge on the topics, but more about time. One only has such much time. But I appreciate the invitation to continue indefinitely. The following should keep us going awhile:

    You obviously don’t understand what I mean by “molecular”. Similarity in DNA or genetics is not what I mean by molecular evidence. What I mean is, what evidence is there that on the molecular level it is possible for enough random mutations in the DNA (even if already similar) to be beneficial so as to “evolve” outside its kind by natural selection alone? My working definition of “kind” is two or more like organisms that together have the ability to procreate.

    Here is how I approach the fossil evidence. This is from a close friend in molecular biology who wrote this and other explanations to help me in an interaction with someone close to me on faith and science:

    “1. Depending completely on anatomical structures is risky. Evolution, in my opinion, is only rightfully debated in terms of molecular biology. That is because biology happens in the details, and the details happen on a molecular level. For example, you can see bones that look to be growing in a conserved way in different sediment layers, but a bone is not a bone is not a bone. There are many different ways to create a similar outcome, speaking in genetic terms. Frankly: you could have two things look the same, but be very different genetically. And evolution isn’t like Darwin et al. thought, in that anatomy doesn’t change slowly to meet the needs
    of an environment. Rather, the current evolutionary
    explanation is that random genetic mutations cause different anatomical structures to change, then they are selected for. So it goes “genes to anatomy”, not
    “anatomy to genes.”

    2. There are unexplained phenomena in the fossil record that show unusual “explosions” of biological diversity all in one small time period. In one layer that represents a short time frame, animals will be seen that are alleged to be very, very distantly related. Essentially, there are layers where organisms appear millions of years “too early.” One example is actually called the “Cambrian explosion.” There are many examples of animals in the “wrong” sediment layer, organisms showing up too early and too late from the proposed pattern in the evolutionary tree that was made based on genetic similarity.

    3. Other natural events can cause rapid and impressive shifts in sediment layers, and a single event can cause differential sediment patterns to form. And, if the earth has been around for as long as evolution scientists claim, things like this are bound to have happened many times over. To me, this explains the current data found in our fossil record better than the evolutionary theory. Some places have a seemingly ordered arrangement of species, while others have unexplained disordered explosions of diversity.

    4. No other area in the field of evolution has been subject to as much forgery as the fossil record. That’s just a fact that no one talks about. The whole field of evolution in general has been subject to forgery at a higher rate than other sciences. This is not as much the case anymore, but many of that classical “icons of evolution” that were considered foundational evolutionary concepts in their day were forged (see Haeckel’s embryos) or based on blatantly wrong science or environmental conditions
    (Miller-Urey experiment). As you can imagine, people latch onto concepts when they are learning, and when a concept is disproved later they still have a hard time letting go because it’s been “right” for so long.”

    I do want to get more into the image of God interpretation, but the above is probably enough to discuss for now. I am inclined to walk away from that portion of the conversation only because you appear to be explaining away one of the few pieces of common ground we had up until now (granted, with “competent scholars” and not out of the blue). I guess that just seemed counterproductive to our conversation at the moment. But if I can, I’ll try to relate my thoughts on that more fully at a later time.

  • Joey Elliott

    Wolfe,

    To imply that I “run around telling everyone else what heretics those commenters at the Jesus Creed are” is unfair. And it is inaccurate.

    Part of my frustration with the “commenters” (I would not include Scot or RJS in this) is that there seems to be more discussion about the millions of data points than there is about Jesus and the nature of saving faith (in the discussions about science). I know from personal experience that it is not wise to ignore the data in discussing faith with scientists, or those inclined to science and that way of thinking. But it is worse in my opinion to talk so much of the data that the reality that Jesus upholds the universe by the word of his power, and in his name alone are we saved, is blurred. The data can’t die for our sins.

    But none of that frustration indicates that I consider this blurring heretical, or that I gossip about it to others.

  • Phil Miller

    Part of my frustration with the “commenters” (I would not include Scot or RJS in this) is that there seems to be more discussion about the millions of data points than there is about Jesus and the nature of saving faith (in the discussions about science). I know from personal experience that it is not wise to ignore the data in discussing faith with scientists, or those inclined to science and that way of thinking. But it is worse in my opinion to talk so much of the data that the reality that Jesus upholds the universe by the word of his power, and in his name alone are we saved, is blurred. The data can’t die for our sins.

    C’mon Joey, you don’t need to go and pull a Jesus Juke – http://www.jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/2010/11/the-jesus-juke/

    We’re discussing a specific topic here, so you can’t pull out the “why don’t you talk about Jesus more?” line. What we’re talking about is how evolutionary biology can align with the Scriptural creation narratives. It’s safe to assume that all of here love Jesus. I don’t think we’d be commenting here if we didn’t.

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil,

    In which comment above do you talk about how much you love Jesus? Why is that only implied? Why can’t it be more clear, even in talks about scientific data?

  • wolfeevolution

    I apologize for the implications of my words, Joey. I didn’t actually mean to imply that that’s what you’re currently doing, because I don’t know you. Actually when I skim through your blog that you posted to below I’m impressed…. While you and I may disagree on how we approach certain things, you don’t seem to descend into any ad hominem attacks, and I appreciate that.

    I agree with Phil, though. When we’re discussing data, that’s what we’re discussing. This isn’t a small group Bible study, after all. That’s for other times of the week. =)

  • Phil Miller

    I’m not sure how I could make it more clear. I try to make my comments on the point of the post as much as possible. I don’t feel the need to add disclaimers. It’s probably the same reason I don’t feel the need to proclaim my love for my wife a random times during the day in front of coworkers or other people.

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil,

    Perhaps my questioning is unfair. I guess I’m just offering a challenge a give for myself: how can I be more clear about Jesus and the gospel in everyday life? How can normal conversations about seemingly unrelated things have the distinct aroma of Christ? This is a personal challenge. I don’t mean to impose it on you. But if you asked, I would encourage you to try.

  • wolfeevolution

    Hey Klasie, where are you when we need you? Geology expert needed in Aisle 5!

    Joey,

    May I ask what you mean by your close friend being “in molecular biology”?

    I’ll admit I’m not an expert in the biological or earth sciences. I had an abysmal high school biology teacher and took exactly one evolution course in undergrad (albeit at an Ivy League university), while my specific training lies in another science (which shall remain nameless for anonymity’s sake). I’m not “in” any kind of biology, geology, or paleontology. Still, I think your friend has misunderstood some things.

    The Cambrian explosion does not show things out of sequence. What it shows is a period during which many of the body plans we see in animals existing today appeared rapidly, for the first time in the fossil record. Great diversification appears to have happened very quickly. Nothing was out of order, though. Can s/he give even one example?

    And I’m not sure if I’ve understood his/her comment here but distantly related things are shown in the same layer because distantly related things live at the same time. For instance, if a million years from now you look at fossils from 2013, you’ll see fossils of sharks, deer, beetles, eagles, and coral. This would be perfectly normal. Predicted, even. We expect significant diversity in any one layer. Have I understood his/her argument properly? Not to be patronizing, but this seems like a very bizarre line of reasoning to me.

    I’m sorry, but the shifting of sediment layers and alleged forgeries do not account for a hundred fifty years of mainstream science in thousands of peer-reviewed journals. (Actually, more than 150 years; the progression of life’s unfolding in the fossil record was documented well before Darwin!) Forgeries exist but they are a miniscule portion of the available evidence, and professional geologists account for the shifting of sediment layers in their analyses. Klasie, back me up on this one. Joey, I think your friend is too quick to dismiss entire fields with thousands of practicing, professional scientists, as all quackery and misunderstanding. For me, you’ll need more than a vague anecdote or two to convince me that entire fields are in the wrong.

    Personally I think our discussion of the image of God stuff will be more helpful. Until we figure all that out, we’ll just be spinning our wheels with everything else, because I doubt you’ll ever choose to believe something intellectually that your heart and spirit can’t assent to. Contrary to what you said, we still have plenty of common ground, believe it or not: a focus on Jesus and confession of the historic creeds of the Church, a high view of the authority of Scripture, and a belief that it’s worthwhile to dig into the meaning of the Bible in the original languages. So as you have time, I invite you to respond on that issue and we’ll see where it goes from there. None of us has all the time in the world, but we all value this discussion, so we can make it buck the trend of the 24-hour news/blog cycle and keep the chat going so long as it is profitable and interesting.

  • Joey Elliott

    Wolfe,

    Still no answer to what molecular evidence you rely on (mutations resulting in a new kind by natural selection alone)? The key point from my friend is “Evolution is only rightfully debated in terms of molecular biology.” Lets get to the fossils after this. And, why does it matter what I mean by “in molecular biology”? There is way to much amateur-phobia around here.

    I knew you would and could refute the fossil info I had. I’m sure Klasie could do more yet. I wasn’t expecting you to be convinced, and actually am not that interested in you being. I was just mentioning why I’m not convinced in the evidence that’s out there. Worst case scenario is you consider me naive.

    I agree the image of God interpretation will be the most fruitful discussion. I will get back to you. Thanks.

  • Sven2547

    It makes so little logic to me that all the “tweeners” died off and no new ones are walking or swimming or flying around.

    One of the most widely-misunderstood aspects of evolution. The fact is this: all species are transitional species. Evolution is always in motion, and populations are always evolving. You’re a “tweener”. So am I. So is the Pope and the Queen of England and the President of the United States.

    But let’s look at some morphological examples of modern species that are branching away from their ancestors and expanding into new environmental niches. Mudskippers are fish that use their pectoral fins to walk on land (unlike their exclusively aquatic ancestors). Bats are mammals that fly (unlike their strictly terrestrial cousins in the rodent family). Whales and dolphins are mammals who have returned to, and adapted to, oceanic life. Penguins are birds, but their wings are no longer capable of flight. Instead, they are evolving to be used as swimming fins. The same holds true for the flippers of seals: they’re clearly descended from feet, but now they’re becoming more specialized for swimming.

  • AHH

    Just quickly picking one of these, the so-called “Cambrian explosion” is WAY overblown as a challenge to evolution. This is gone over pretty thoroughly by a Christian paleontologist here:
    http://biologos.org/blog/series/cambrian-series

    Now, your point #1 is actually a good one in that this person is right that the evidence from molecular biology (this mainly means genetic sequences) is stronger evidence for common ancestry than anatomical similarity is. Anatomical similarity can occasionally be misleading because of “convergent evolution” discussed elsewhere in this comment thread.

  • wolfeevolution

    Thanks, AHH. I was truly baffled as to how the Cambrian explosion could possibly challenge evolution. It’ll be helpful to dig into this series you posted so I know how to answer this in future.

    Edited: That series was excellent. Thanks again for the tip, AHH.

  • Joey Elliott

    Still no answer to what molecular evidence is available (mutations resulting in a new kind by natural selection alone)? The key point from my friend is “Evolution is only rightfully debated in terms of molecular biology.” Lets get to the fossils after this.

    I was merely stating why I don’t find the fossil info convincing. So, I’m an idiot for using the Cambrian explosion as a defense. Who cares. Let’s talk molecules mutating successfully into other lifeforms.

  • wolfeevolution

    In my view, the molecular evidence by itself is actually not as strong as it once was. When Darrel Falk wrote _Coming to Peace with Science_, received wisdom told us that there was such a thing as “junk DNA.” Junk DNA was the “white noise” of evolution, sequences of A/C/G/T (DNA proteins) that were said not to have any phenotypic expression, i.e., they did not actually “do” anything. Geneticists had found strings of this junk DNA that appeared in, say, chimps and humans but not gorillas, or chimps, humans and gorillas but not orangutans. For many (including myself!), the presence of this “junk DNA” was _proof positive_ of modification by descent, because there was _no other reason_ why these nonsense DNA sequences would be shared among genetically related groups.

    Just last year, though, there was a big media hubbub over the release of results from the massive ENCODE project. The findings of this project were said to open a new era in genetic studies, because they showed that in at least some cases, so-called “junk DNA” actually _did_ something.

    Anyway, I still feel the molecular data are strong. They’re just not AS strong as they were stated to be, say, three years ago.

    All of this aside, I don’t think I can actually answer your challenge, because your challenge is literally impossible to meet, as I’ve already said elsewhere. In fact, I don’t really understand it. What would be proof to you? I’ve spent ten minutes staring at the screen trying to get my mind around what “molecular evidence … [of] mutations resulting in a new kind by natural selection alone” would look like — in humans, of course, since you’ve already told me that’s the only kind of macroevolution you care about proving / disproving. So…. I would need to somehow clone the latest common ancestor of chimps and humans, whose DNA we don’t have, and then mate enough of them to watch random mutations over six million years in a natural environment (not a lab, but somewhere on earth, with the same predators and foods that our ancestors ran from and hunted) to create humans. And do all of this while I’m observing, so I can write it up. Fortunately for all of us, Joey, I’m not God, so I can’t meet this challenge. :) Can you tell me what you’re looking for? Otherwise you’re sending us all on a fool’s errand and pretending that’s the only thing that could possibly be science….

    In general, I disagree with your “friend in molecular biology”‘s assertion that evolution is _only_ rightfully debated in terms of molecular biology. I agree with AHH that genetics may provide stronger evidence, but part of the beauty of evolutionary theory is the way that it draws together diverse strands of evidence in a simple and elegant way. The alternatives simply do not.

    P.S. “Amateur-phobia” may be a good thing, imho. :) I’ll leave that point at that.

  • AHH

    Joey, I think you miss the point that when real biologists talk about “molecular biology” being key for evolution, they are talking (at least mostly) about DNA and genetics. Where you have been pointed many times to resources explaining that evidence which is as strong for humans as for other creatures.

    From one comment it sounds (ignoring the scientifically meaningless term “kind”) like you may have in mind something else — some step-by-step reconstruction that maps each tiny step in the long evolutionary journey onto a specific DNA mutation. That sort of detailed history isn’t feasible in most cases as it would take a huge amount of work (which would not get funded since it wouldn’t cure a disease). It would be like asking to identify every step I took in walking from Chicago to Pittsburgh, when the evidence is more like pictures of me in both places and in several intermediate locations, and dust on my shoes that can be identified from certain counties in Indiana and Ohio.

    There has been some such work done; here is a story about one moderately significant change in human physiology:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_evolution/2012/10/evolution_of_lactose_tolerance_why_do_humans_keep_drinking_milk.html

    I know a guy (a Christian, as it happens) who worked out much of the path for the evolution of corn from a weed-like ancestor. There are other examples, but I don’t have time to dig for them. Given the overwhelming evidence that common descent has happened, the burden of proof is on anybody who makes claims that it couldn’t have happened based on nebulous thoughts about molecular biology (and a theist who makes such claims should think about why God would have planted a bunch of false evidence in our DNA).

    By the way, I’m still interested in what you said was your main concern — the image of God. Even if one accepts your view on that concerning physicality, why is common descent a problem for that? Even if being physical is part of the image, what difference does it make how God created our physical bodies?

  • AHH

    Wolfe,
    The discovery of limited function in some of the “junk DNA” did not, as I understand it, put any real dent in the molecular evidence for common descent. There was a series on Biologos (with contributions from a non-amateur geneticist) discussing those results:
    http://biologos.org/blog/series/decoding-encode-series

  • wolfeevolution

    Thanks, AHH; this is helpful. I had seen one of these, but missed the series.

  • Susan_G1

    Joey, (this is getting long, so I ask everyone’s pardon here)

    I’m trying to understand what you want when you ask for molecular evidence (mutations resulting in a new kind by natural selection alone).

    Mutations on a molecular level or a macromolecular level?

    Forgive me if my answer is stuff that you know already. But I’ll try.

    Mutations are random, and they are occurring all the time in a lot of our cells, thousands as I type this. A mutation is technically an erroneous base change that occurs in our DNA when it is being replicated in the process of cell division. The vast majority of these mutations are unimportant/insignificant, because we have already differentiated our cells to perform their appropriate functions, so if a skin cell, for example, has a mutation that is important in genes for blood cell function, nothing happens. It won’t get expressed. I will leave cancer out of this for now, OK?

    Mutations aren’t teleological. They are neither good nor bad. So forget selection for a moment. The “important” mutations occur in cells that have pluripotentiality, that is, cells that have the ability to become many different tissues. The further back one goes in embryological development, the more pluripotential the cells become, until you have the ultimate pluripotential cell, the fertilized ovum. Here, the mutations can really have impact. Here, a single base substitution (error/mutation) can mean anything from a hemoglobin abnormality detectable only under certain conditions to incompatibility with life. Sickle cell anemia (there are more than one kind, but let’s simplify here) resulted from only one single base mutation in the fertilized ovum. Because it’s not a lethal condition, this mutation was able to be passed on in the population, such that now, 1 in 12 african americans have it on one chromosome (consisting of two chromatids). When two people (eventually two such people in a population will meet up) with the mutation on one chromatid pair up, there’s a chance that 1 of 4 children will have the defective chromosome, and, just like that, that person’s entire life, their health, their immunological system, their joints, their life span, all kinds of things, will be affected by a single mutation. (This is evidence of a molecular event expressed on the macromolecular level.) It is mind boggling. You would think this ‘bad’ mutation would be eliminated by ‘survival of the fittest’. However, it turns out that this mutation confers a protective effect against a deadly kind of malaria, so, in actuality, in regions where malaria kills people, people with this single mutation were actually ‘fitter’ than those without, thus gaining an evolutionary advantage. That’s why this is so common now in peoples originally from malaria-infested regions. Now you have an example of natural selection.

    Many mutations in the sperm, ovum, or fertilized ovum will be incompatible with life, so women miscarry these without even knowing it (i.e., the zygote dies before her next menstrual period). Sometimes the mutation occurs in a cell already somewhat differentiated, and results in “mosiacism” – a mosaic of affected cells and normal cells. A readily obvious mosaic can be seen in skin cells able to produce melanin (pigment): people can actually be striped, really, stripes, because early on, in one of several cells already differentiated to become skin, a single mutation occurs that plays with melanin production. (Google “mosaicism” and half-way down the page, you’ll see a striped person. Click on that, and you’ll see more.) This won’t be passed on because it will not have any effect on cells destined to become gonads. But, if it does happen in a cell destined to become a gonad, it *may* get passed on as a new skin color.

    This is very wordy, but I’m trying to say one simple thing: a new skin color, while interesting, is not a new species. There is no single mutation that will result in a new species, no molecular proof positive. No one can provide you with that because it doesn’t exist. A new species is the net result of millions of single mutations, the death of a large number of these, the incorporation of those that are not lethal or are neutral or which actually provide a survival advantage, gradually over a very, very, very long time. But you won’t ever “see” it happening, because it will take way too many lifetimes for this to occur. And no one can hand it to you.

    The best we can do is to compare the DNA of like species to see how closely their DNA matches, knowing that soooooo any mutations had to occur (and ‘live’) to make those species close but different. And the best scientists among us, the truly gifted, the Linus Paulings, can extrapolate that information to form a model that holds up to trials with different species, and how that matches other (e.g. fossil) evidence, and allow us to “map” out evolutionary trees. And, as Wolfe pointed out, “junk DNA” actually helps in this process.

    This is what sven2547 meant when she said we are all “tweeners”. Each one of us who can still reproduce (and that lets me off the hook) has the potential to produce an offspring with a biological advantage or a new disease. And when enough time passes, accumulations will occur, paths will diverge, and a new species of man will occur to compete with his rival species and become the alpha man for a while (see Wolfe’s neanderthal comment). But that is a whole other theological issue, isn’t it? I wouldn’t worry about that, though, because our planet will not be able to sustain life for that long, at least not human life.

    Apologies to Wolfe here, for reiterating his eloquent words in an attempt to answer you with a somewhat different approach.

    PS to the scientifically savvy who reject the malaria advantage – a reasonable position – there is now evidence. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110428123931.htm)

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    Responding to the following:

    “No one can provide you with that because it doesn’t exist. A new species is the net result of millions of single mutations, the death of a large number of these, the incorporation of those that are not lethal or are neutral or which actually provide a survival advantage, gradually over a very, very, very long time. But you won’t ever “see” it happening, because it will take way too many lifetimes for this to occur. And no one can hand it to you.

    “The best we can do is to compare the DNA of like species to see how closely their DNA matches, knowing that soooooo many mutations had to occur (and ‘live’) to make those species close but different. And the best scientists among us, the truly gifted, the Linus Paulings, can extrapolate that information to form a model that holds up to trials with different species, and how that matches other (e.g. fossil) evidence, and allow us to “map” out evolutionary trees.”

    What you say is the “best we can do” is to me absolutely not good enough. I’m really sorry if that is offensive to scientists or those inclined to the field of science. But from my vantage point, these many mutations required to make a species close but different (not to mention different altogether) is not only impossible to see, but also it is impossible to happen. From a probability standpoint alone, the factors stacked against an organism from having enough beneficial mutations to become something else entirely, even over a gazillion years, is just not feasible; even if similarity in DNA, and fossil evidence, and a bunch of other stuff “seems” to make macro-evolution conclusive anyway. All of that I consider circumstantial at best without more clear evidence that it is possible for genes to beneficially mutate enough to create a new “kind”, which I define as two or more like organisms able to procreate.

    All of that is what I mean when I say it is my opinion that macro-evolution as it applies to humans is not only theologically problematic, but also scientifically so.

    I hope Wolfe and AHH see this post, because in my responses to them I’m going to move on and strictly refer to the theological problems, which is where I started, and specifically the image of God interpretation. I hope where this leaves us is:

    “Ok, you don’t agree that humans could have evolved, and you have thought through it scientifically. Even if we disagree, why does it matter so much?”

    I understand it would have to matter a great deal for me to be so persistent, because what I am implying is that all the “circumstantial evidence”, as I call it, in DNA and fossils, etc. is essentially misleading (even though perhaps pretty convincing). In other words, it would have to matter so much theologically that even Christian scientists, or science-minded Christians, would have to start “re-interpreting” some of the evidence they have now strongly relied on to prove evolution. This is bold I know, and very unlikely. But I believe such reinterpretation of science (not including observable, molecular biology, mind you) would be less harmful than reinterpretation of Scripture.

  • Susan_G1

    “From a probability standpoint alone, the factors stacked against an organism from having enough beneficial mutations to become something else entirely, even over a gazillion years, is just not feasible.”

    Joey, that’s not a problem with science. It’s clearly there. It’s a bit of a problem with how you view mutations and time. Especially time. It sounds like the retort creationists use when they compare evolution to a thousand monkeys typing for a million years, and the odds that one will produce “McBeth.” That will never happen because there are no organizing principles to direct the outcome.

    Your view is not offensive at all, and I hope mine is not offensive to you. I know now that *I* cannot ever convince you of the scientific processes that result in multiple species developing from one through time. So that is now a non-issue with me.

    “But I believe such reinterpretation of science (not including observable, molecular biology, mind you) would be less harmful than reinterpretation of Scripture.”

    Generations of Christians have been doing exactly that, Joey. That’s what the Young Earth Creationist societies are doing, societies full of people with advanced degrees in Science trying to disprove the evidence because of an a priori commitment to a literal view of Scripture.

    So we will agree to disagree. I’ll leave it to my betters to discuss the image of God with you, as I am neither philosopher nor theologian (well, budding, I do hope; we are all theologians when it comes down to it.)

  • Joey Elliott

    Susan,

    Thanks for your grace, and overall I greatly appreciate the interaction. There is a part of me that wants to keep drilling down, and ask what you could possibly mean by “its clearly there” in reference to the evidence for beneficial mutations, after all we’ve already been over and your admission that such observable proof is not possible. And ask what you mean by “organizing principles”, and get you to say that ultimately this is where faith comes in with a belief in evolution despite the seemingly impossibility of it.

    But, I won’t. :) Instead I’ll try to work through the theological implications and the image of God in a way that is helpful and fruitful for all.

    PS. God bless those with “a priori commitment to a literal view of Scripture”. :) Here’s to more who would believe the science based on Scripture, and not believe Scripture based on science.

  • Susan_G1

    I’ll offer. “Organizing principles” have nothing to do with faith. They are based on laws governing matter and energy, ionic and covalent bonds, hydrogen bonds, the unique properties of water, cis- and trans-bonds, amino acids and enzymes, the breathtakingly beautiful complexity of life organized into repeating patterns. Just saying… ;-)

    Blessings to you, Joey.

  • Joey Elliott

    Oh. I was assuming you were referring to God-directed “laws”. Which, are all of those things not God-directed? If so, seems like that is where faith comes in, i.e. we don’t know how God directs them but we believe he just does. If not, are they just so perfectly complex and organized by chance?

  • wolfeevolution

    Here’s a thought experiment for you, Joey: Try separating “natural selection” from “modification by descent” for a moment. Just because you don’t believe these mutations could have happened “randomly” and been selected for by “natural processes” of “survival of the fittest” doesn’t mean per se that you have to reject _modification by descent_, i.e., that the generation of new species happened by life forms reproducing and making slightly different life forms as babies over millions of years to create the diversity we see today. Because of the ironclad strength of the DNA evidence, modification by descent has always been a much easier pill for me to swallow than natural selection. That is, one can easily say, “I believe in modification by descent, but I believe it was God that nudged each little mutation over millions of years.” (In fact, even Christians that believe in natural selection may believe this, because these two beliefs can easily be harmonized by looking at proximate vs. ultimate causes.) Anyway, this was the way I approached things for a long time. I understand that it can be hard to believe each of these tiny little mutations conveyed a survival advantage so strong that over millions of generations you had a seemingly completely different animal. But it’s easier to believe *God* could do that, isn’t it? Anyway, some will doubtless disagree with me — from both sides, in fact! — but I think that this can be a productive approach because it synthesizes a great deal of the available data while giving God the glory for the most fantastical parts of the story painted by the evidence. Mind you, I don’t expect you to take this route, because you still disagree on the Scriptural interpretation side of things, but I just wanted you to know it exists.

  • wolfeevolution

    To piggyback off of Susan’s comment: people have been reinterpreting the Bible’s “plain meaning” for centuries to bend to observed phenomena. Yes, even you have drunk from these waters of compromise, Joey — unless of course you believe that the sun revolves around the earth, the world is flat with four corners, there are waters above the sky and the abode of God above those waters, there are waters beneath the land and pillars holding the land in place. The battles between scientists and theologians to accept Scripture’s reinterpretation to allow for discoveries in these matters were fierce in their day. Just maybe, this sort of adjustment may need to happen again….

  • Susan_G1

    really great point.

  • Susan_G1

    The principles I mentioned are not so much God directed as God ordained, that is, He put them all into place when He created the universe, and what follows (including life) cannot break His rules. Does that make sense? Can you see that “Faith” here in the process starts with “In the beginning” and not “as it went along, He decided to change a few things here and there…” I don’t know if this makes any sense at all; this might be another wall for us.

  • AHH

    I’m really sorry if that is offensive to scientists or those inclined to the field of science. But from my vantage point, these many mutations required to make a species close but different (not to mention different altogether) is not only impossible to see, but also it is impossible to happen.
    In logic, this is called the “argument from personal incredulity”. Basically “I (usually someone with superficial knowledge at best of the scientific issue) can’t see how it could have happened, therefore it must not have.”
    I hope you at least understand why such assertions carry so little weight with scientists.

    All of that I consider circumstantial at best without more clear evidence that it is possible for genes to beneficially mutate enough to create a new “kind”, which I define as two or more like organisms able to procreate.
    If you use this definition of “kind” (which seems equivalent to “species”), such evidence exists. While it generally takes a long time for speciation to happen, cases of observed recent speciation do show up on occasion. Lists of such things are here:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/speciation.html
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html

  • Joey Elliott

    AHH,

    Are you not willing to “agree to disagree” like Susan, so we can talk about the image of God?

    I’m a bit tired being told what else to read as if I don’t even have a good argument and need to be more informed. I’ve tried really hard not to imply that you all are uniformed and send you a bunch of links. You have a good argument. I disagree with it and am not ignorant or naive. There are very few people like me who would go this far and still be willing to dialogue. But I’m not going to last forever.

  • Joey Elliott

    Wolfe,

    Are you really comparing a flat earth, etc. with the historical nature of Adam, i.e. the theological implications of macro evolution? Can you find me a single orthodox theologian who still believes the earth is flat? I am shocked you brought up these examples, but fairly thankful because I consider them softballs. I just need more time.

    I am definitely ready to take this conversation to theology and away from science, although like I told AHH above, I regret that you all still think my scientific argument is ignorant or naive. I would have much rather had an agree to disagree scenario. I worry that concerns for why it matters are going to be lost on you because at the end of the day you will never share my concern enough to honestly be confronted with these things, because you don’t think I have a leg to stand on on the scientific end.

  • Joey Elliott

    It is easier to believe that God could have directed the millions of tiny little mutations that each conveyed survival advantage enough that after millions of generations you had a seemingly completely different animal, yes.

    But are we going with what is the easiest to believe? If so, it seems easier yet to believe that God created each animal according to its kind exactly how he said, and that all these tiny little mutations did not accomplish something that can never be conclusively proven, but merely changed certain features in certain animals in certain ways over time.

    I’m more interested in what is true, though, not in what is easiest.

    As we get in to theological implications, I sure wish we had a different forum. These broken responses and the whole Disqus format is starting to drive me crazy.

  • wolfeevolution

    Clearly, the stakes are higher with evolution — I do not dispute this — but at another level the battle is the same: Do we interpret Scripture “literally,” or do we allow for the possibility that God spoke to them in their cultural setting with their cultural understandings of how the world works?

    Orthodox theologians today aren’t geocentrists, but in Galileo’s day, they sure were, and they had a very hard time adjusting. If you study the history of science, I think you might see more similarities between the two examples than you think.

  • wolfeevolution

    I hear you about the Disqus format. Takes a while to find the new comments. Tell you what: If you make a brand new top-tier comment on the original post, I promise to check back and follow *it*. That way we won’t have to scroll through 120-odd comments to find the new stuff.

    I think you know that all of us here are interested in truth first; you’re taking my “easier to believe” out of context. I find your comment in that vein rather uncharitable, but I won’t get bent out of shape about it, especially since some of my earlier comments could be interpreted rather uncharitably as well.

    I disagree, though, about what is easiest to believe. I have a very hard time believing that God created many thousands of data points that seem to show modification by descent if that’s not what really happened. That seems to imply God is fabricating things that would mislead us just to test our faith in His word, and that, sir, is a hard sort of God to believe in.

  • Joey Elliott

    Wolfe,

    Do you think I interpret the entire Bible literally? I don’t. Anyone that does is insane.

    But that does mean because all of it is not literal that none of it is. The flat earth example was a “mis-interpretation”. The historic nature of Adam would be a a “re-interpretation”. The difference is enormous.

    The battle is not at all the same.

  • wolfeevolution

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one :)

  • AHH

    Joey, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist on answers to scientific questions you think are important (even nagging people for not providing them right away), and then get peeved when scientists here make a good-faith effort to answer your questions (which may require correcting what appear to be misunderstandings on your part). It is no sin to be uninformed about a topic — but if you wade into such a discussion you should not be surprised when well-meaning people try to get you better informed. I’d expect the same if I went into a discussion of classical music or some other topic where I’m uninformed.

    I’m perfectly happy at this point to “agree to disagree” about the science and talk about the image of God. In fact, in the midst of this Disqus mess I have twice asked you for what I think would be a key clarification of your image of God view to move constructive conversation forward.


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